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Less Talking, More Walking: What The Controversial Movie Has To Say About The Iraq War And What It Leaves Out
By John Cappello
The tragedy of "American Sniper" isn't that it is American propaganda, or that it depicts the Iraq War in only a singular opinion. The real tragedy is that so many Americans are complicit with the existence of such a film, and are quick to dismiss its detractors as people getting all-upset over "just a movie."
That is bogus, because what is the point of liking movies, or any other forms of entertainment, if they do not make you think or reflect? "American Sniper" is Chris Kyle's biopic, but it really feels like a remake of "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly" set during the Iraq war. A story about a stoic man without any opinion of the struggle he is in or the emotions he is experiencing. He does his job, pure and simple. Essentially 2/3 of the movie is repetitive scenes of him being a good sniper. The movie is so non-opinionated that it can't be considered threatening to those who disagree with Clint Eastwood's politics.
"American Sniper" succeeds in glossing over any sort of existential crisis or moral discussion that could have transpired in the central figure, Chris Kyle, and his fellow veterans who entered into a war made for the wrong reasons. The filmmakers tried so hard to keep politics out of it that they practically plucked a film ripe for anti-Iraq war, anti-Bush, and anti-conservative backlash. President Bush and his administration are never even mentioned in the film.
The conflict and tension built in the narrative of American Sniper is bombastic and all over the place. Sometimes a scene becomes tense because Chris Kyle is on the verge of being killed. Sometimes the tension rises because we the audience are in the midst of Chris Kyle's own dilemma over whether he will have to kill another Iraqi child, and we are begging with him not to kill another Iraqi child.
Clint Eastwood has painted an Iraq War without politics, and an Iraq without humanity, and that's just not what it was. American Sniper is essentially THE MOST modern day Western a modern day Western can be, minus the Western part. There is America, and there is everyone else. The Good and The Bad. The gun toting, silent hero vs. the wicked, evil "savages." The dimensionless Iraqis of American Sniper replace the dimensionless Native Americans of Western movies old. And the war is The Ugly.
At worse, the American forces are portrayed as being unable to do their jobs well enough. There are a few Americans sprinkled throughout the movie who seem to have a less than enthusiastic opinion of the Iraq War, but they are portrayed as either lazy or cowardly. And two of them get killed, you know, probably because they were lazy cowards. The majority of the Iraqi characters are unquestionably evil. And the ones who are less are questionably good, or just indistinguishable screaming extras in the background.
I almost wish Bradley Cooper had receivd the Academy Award for Best Actor. Not necessarily because he gave the best performance of the year, although his portrayal of Chris Kyle is perhaps his most nuanced that I have seen of his career, but because it is truly a credit to his craft that he can do so much with a man who seemed to have felt so little. And yet as an actor, Cooper magnificently wears on his face all of Chris Kyle's internalized thoughts.
There is a scene at the beginning of the movie where his father tells a young Chris Kyle that people fall into 3 categories; either wolves, sheep, or sheepdogs, and that Chris Kyle is a sheepdog. He is trained by his father to be good at shooting. Chris Kyle never changes from that. Chris Kyle is the quintessential quiet, God-fearing, bible-holding Christian, Texas rodeo white Navy Seal, and his characterization is 100% all of the stereotypes that come to mind when described in that way. He is shown to respect women, sucking precious life from the audience to make the distinction between an honorable Texan and a cousin-loving redneck, and yet his wife is shown to have no life beyond that which consists of being Chris Kyle's wife. 50% of his dialogue is an amalgam of "yes, sir" and "sure" exchanges.
Chris Kyle as a human being is penultimately summed up in a scene at the end of the movie, where he is a post-war veteran visiting a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist asks him if he has any terror from shooting people, and he states matter-of-factly that he did everything he could to save the lives of his countrymen and wishes that he could have killed more bad guys and saved more good guys. Here is an interview between the real Chris Kyle and Bill O' Reilly where he says just that.
So while watching American Sniper, I struggled to find a reason for the film. I struggled to find its opinion. I struggled to find why I should empathize with Chris Kyle beyond the fact that he was an American Sniper. I struggled to relate to him and his struggles beyond my comprehension of a war that I and several other Americans disagreed with and found pointless. I struggled to relate to him as an American civilian who unconsciously doped around in high school while Kyle and other soldiers fought for our country in another country where boys my own age were being gunned down on the streets (well, we do that here too, but that's not my point right now). I struggled to relate to the Iraqi civilians (and even the terrorists) based on my own understanding of the American invasion of their land and how the Bush administration threw innocent Iraqi and American people into a clusterfuck of a war that had nothing to do with 9/11 and had everything to do with reaping Iraq of its resources and distraction and enacting the political ideologies of the Bush Administration.
I struggled to find a reason for this film's existence beyond the notion that Hollywood wanted to cash in on the numerous conservative, pro-Iraq War audiences that are so unfortunately underrepresented by Hollywood and the liberal media (kidding). In the end, I came up with nothing. I sat back and watched the film that was there, and enjoyed the company of the people that I went to see the film with. And I hope that if they read this, they don't mind that I didn't like the movie 100% (wink wink). And now, like an angsty teenager who just discovered that his right hand moves a lot faster than his left, I am lashing out over the internet. And I find hordes of more discussion and thought here than what was put into American Sniper.
Yet, as one of those film buff people who makes films sometimes, I can even see how if the film were just re-cut by the most expert of editors, American Sniper could even be turned into an anti-Iraq War movie. THAT is how uninterested the film is in its own subject matter. It's easy to suggest the film is American Propaganda, because it doesn't really suggest that it is anything else. And since the Iraq War is officially or unofficially over, what purpose does this film have, since there is no more war for which to recruit any moviegoers?
Clint Eastwood treats the Iraq War like HIS idea of the Iraq War is the only Iraq War that actually happened. He and actor Bradley Cooper cannot successfully argue that the movie is a 'character study,' a statement that truly means nothing when you take into account that all narratives have characters and therefore can be character studies, because Chris Kyle is presented not so much as a man with his own thoughts, but as a piece on a big chessboard. He is an object on an even bigger object, and director Clint Eastwood's vision is that of objective truth or God or something even bigger.
But the real truth isn't that 'war is Hell,' or that 'war destroys the lives of our soldiers who fought for our freedom', and that if you disagree even the slightest with that jargon, you are unpatriotic. The real truth is that war is complicated, and war changes the lives of not just the soldiers, but the civilians of its country as well. In my opinion, it is unfair to the soldiers and civilians, both living and dead, to treat the Iraq War as anything but divisive, complicated, and full of disagreement, good, and evil on both sides, or as anything but a military occupation fought for the interests of political ideologies.
The Iraq War wasn't about 9/11. It was about the fire that sparked in our country after that awful day. And now, at a time when that spark has nearly diminished and as a nation we have the perspective to discuss what happened without having to get upset, a movie like American Sniper comes and seems to demand that we be upset again, and I am not sure why.
#Real #AmericanSniper #ChrisKyle #Iraq #IraqWar #Foreign Policy #CurrentEvents
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